Tuesday Tune Two-Fer: Houses by the Sea

Two tangentially-related songs about how much better life is when you’ve got beachfront property

This week’s two-fer is in honor of the Dirty Projectors concert I went to over the weekend.

One lovely and calming song from 5 EPs is “On the Breeze”, a perfect melody that the band kind of treats as a sketch, giving it just enough time to vibe with before fading into memory. The problem with a band this talented is that I listen to their other songs on repeat, leaving wonderful bits like this neglected.

Something I definitely haven’t neglected is The Shepherd’s Dog by Iron & Wine. It’s one of my all-time favorite albums, and listening to it feels a little like slipping in and out of a dream that’s haunting but still relaxing somehow. That might be because I most often listen to it while I’m on a plane, nodding off while a bearded man whisper-sings into my ear. And also listening to The Shepherd’s Dog.

It’s hard to pick my favorite song from the album, because it’s near perfect. But one of my favorites is “House By The Sea,” which is fortunate, because it’s thematically consistent.

Song of the Earth

Seeing Dirty Projectors with the LA Philharmonic at the Walt Disney Concert Hall

I’ve got a list of must-see attractions in Los Angeles, and I’ve been slowly ticking them off since we moved. I should be able to see everything on the list at some point within the next 30 years or so.1For contrast: I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for about 25 years, and I’m a fan of Vertigo, but I still to this day have never visited the Legion of Honor. One of those was seeing the LA Philharmonic perform at the Walt Disney Concert Hall. So I was happily surprised last year to see that Dirty Projectors, one of my “new”2New in that I first discovered them within the last few years favorite bands, would be doing a performance with the orchestra in March.

The performance was the US debut of Song of the Earth, which was described as “…a song cycle for orchestra and voices written by Dirty Projectors leader David Longstreth. A kaleidoscopic work that takes inspiration from Gustav Mahler’s 1908 piece Das Lied Von Der Erde (The Song of the Earth) as much as Brian Wilson’s pocket symphonies, Song of the Earth explores the cyclical character of life and death, nature, and the transience of all things.”

I wasn’t sure what to expect, and I definitely didn’t expect to love all of it. While there are a dozen or so songs by Dirty Projectors that I absolutely love, I have to admit that I rarely listen through the entire album, and there are still dozens of songs that I have yet to even hear. My quick-and-shallow take on David Longstreth — with the obvious acknowledgement that the band isn’t a solo act, and several of their songs are collaborations — is that he’s “an easily-bored genius;” he’s entirely capable of writing catchy and melodic alt-rock or alt-pop with a memorable hook, but he has little interest in leaving it at that. Most of their songs have some weird twist to them, like sudden changes in rhythm, voices that shift from harmony to discord and back, overlapping time signatures, or layers of percussion or unexpected sound effects. A blurb on Apple Music accurately described it as “dense.” I expected that even if I didn’t love all of it, it would at the very least be interesting.

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    For contrast: I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for about 25 years, and I’m a fan of Vertigo, but I still to this day have never visited the Legion of Honor.
  • 2
    New in that I first discovered them within the last few years

Tuesday Tune Two-Fer: Vampire Weeknd

Two tangentially-related tunes to prove that I do sometimes listen to music made within the last decade

When I was younger, I imagined that at some point in my 40s or 50s, a switch would flip, and I’d suddenly find myself too old to listen to any new music. I’d turn into a cartoonish version of the elderly, complaining about all the profanity and the screeching and the caterwauling and how the youths didn’t appreciate the good, mellow, old-fashioned music I listened to, like the Pixies.

Turns out my prediction was half right. As I’ve settled into middle age, I do almost always retreat to the safety of my turn-of-the-millennium college radio music. But the reason isn’t that contemporary stuff is too intense for me, but that it’s so boring. There’s so rarely any hook to it; it feels like instead of getting more daring or experimental, it’s mostly just over-produced and predictable.

At our house in Oakland, there were frequently some teenagers who’d park their car nearby and blast their music while they were doing whatever teenagers do — probably involving drugs and premarital sex! — and I was often right on the verge of being the stereotypical geriatric white man storming out of the house, demanding that they turn it down. But I’d be yelling, “Turn that racket down! It’s too vacuous!” I’m in the enviable position of having virtually every new song available to me on demand whenever I want, and I’m most often saying, “Nah, I’m good.”

But I do often make an effort! Sometimes it pays off, and sometimes it doesn’t.

I think Olivia Rodrigo is the real deal, for instance. It’s very much pop music, accessible enough for superstardom and Apple tie-ins. But on top of the hook required for a pop hit, there’s such a great combination of influences and styles that it all feels really interesting.

My favorite by far is “Vampire.” The album version starts out as a breathy piano ballad, which could quickly turn into the kind of maudlin showcase for a pop star trying to show off their range as a Real Musician. But then it starts to throw in all kinds of stuff that give it depth, not just gloss. The end result feels like an extremely media-savvy artist who knows how to navigate an industry in the 2020s and get 93 million views on YouTube, but never at the expense of making it feel anything less than sincere. (And as it turns out, the stripped down piano ballad version is pretty good, too).

The Weeknd is more towards the other end of the scale for me. Most of his stuff is inoffensive, but there’s rarely any hook that I can get into. Apart from “Can’t Feel My Face” and “Blinding Lights,” I can’t really tell his songs apart from each other, and those I recognize only because they were played constantly.

But the other thing I didn’t predict back in my teens and twenties was what would be required to be a superstar in the 21st century. It can’t be just about the music; it has to be a full-on media blitz. And while there’s not a lot for me in The Weeknd’s music, I respect the hell out of what he does with the overall presentation.

Until Universal Hollywood Horror Nights made a house themed to his music, I had no idea that “Blinding Lights” was part of a whole horror-themed concept album, with a series of interconnected videos about fame, image, self-image, and the evils of Los Angeles and Las Vegas. Part of that is the video for “Too Late,” which has a pair of plastic surgery-obsessed women finding The Weeknd’s decapitated head in the middle of the road and then taking it home to have sex with it. (And not to tell them their business, but completely unnecessarily murdering a stripper to attach to Mr Weeknd’s head. Even though the things they were doing didn’t even require him to have a body. So wasteful).

The music doesn’t really grab me, but that video was one of the few things in modern pop music that was genuinely able to shock middle-aged me. Are they even allowed to show that kind of thing?!

One Thing I Love About Every Episode of Poker Face (part 1)

Poker Face is so clever that every episode has at least one thing I love

It’s probably inaccurate to say that I’ve been “surprised” by Poker Face, since I knew I was predisposed to love it based on Rian Johnson’s involvement alone. But I have been a little surprised by how much it’s been surpassing my expectations.

I’ve got to acknowledge that I haven’t seen that much of Columbo, and I don’t remember that much about the episodes that I have seen, apart from the most basic premise (you know the murderer(s) from the start) and Peter Falk’s performance. But a huge part of what makes Poker Face feel so novel and so clever is how it’s all about manipulating the audience’s expectations and sympathies, and how it is constantly re-contextualizing what you’ve seen so far. It seems like they took the stuff I loved about Glass Onion and then spent an entire season’s worth of television exploring all the different ways you could change up or expand on the concepts.

For the first time in a very long time, I’ve been loving a series so much that I desperately wish I could write scripts for it. Are spec scripts still a thing? Do I have to resort to fan fiction?

I’ve already written about the first episode, twice, but I’ll try to keep things more focused this time. And this will only be the first part, because we’ve still only seen the first five episodes at this point. Lots of spoilers throughout; assume that you shouldn’t read any of these until you’ve watched episodes 1-5.

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Tuesday Tune Two-Fer: Rock and Roll Hall of Presidents

Two tangentially-related tunes for Presidents Day

Look: there are a lot of Tuesdays in a year. They can’t all be winners.

This Monday was Presidents Day in the United States, a great reminder to Americans of how it’s an office of importance that should theoretically still be respectable. And how the whole idea of “anyone could grow up to be President of the United States” is supposed to be wholesome and aspirational, not an ominous warning of a terrible design flaw.

First this week is “Ana Ng” from the They Might Be Giants album Lincoln. It’s always unsettling watching old TMBG videos, because 1988 John Flansburgh looks eerily like 1988 me. (Or maybe vice versa).

I can’t choose a favorite song off of Lincoln, but it’s probably a toss-up between “Ana Ng” and “Mr. Me.” An edited version of the latter was used as the closing theme music for an animated cartoon block on a local station in Atlanta, so I kind of just assumed it came from somewhere in Cartoonland. It was a surprise to hear it years later, popping up out of nowhere on a CD I’d bought after getting really into Flood. But it tracks, seeing as how they’ve always been at least a little bit cartoon-adjacent, making weird music for nerds and the children of nerds.

Here’s a fun fact: did you know that Martha Wash’s last name is actually Wash? I always assumed she’d shortened it from “Washington,” but no. So that’s why you’re saved from having “Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)” as the second song this week.

Instead, it’s “Concrete and Clay,” my favorite song from the soundtrack to Rushmore. Consider it an upgrade; that’s like Washington and three whole other presidents. It’s nice to remember how impressive Rushmore was when it first came out; it seemed to come out of nowhere, full of self-confidence and a surprising amount of sincerity. Now I’m getting nostalgic for the late 1990s.

The Uncanny Z-Axis

Furthering the case for comics in 3D

Last week I saw a post from Ron Brinkmann’s Digital Composting blog about viewing comic books on the Vision Pro. Using the iPad version of Apple’s Books app1Which I admit I kind of forgot existed, he experimented with both The Sandman, spreading multiple pages into a panorama across his space; and an older issue of Detective Comics, which could be displayed like a museum piece, letting him get close enough to see the half-tone printing in full detail.

Static pages wouldn’t require any effort from comics publishers or artists. It’d give you the opportunity to turn a comic into a kind of museum exhibition, walking around the layouts and seeing them unbound by the restrictions of a page or a screen. It’s basically a no-brainer.

And because it’s a straightforward idea with no real downsides, I filed it away as “would be nice, but probably will never happen.” Or gain enough traction for anyone to pay attention to it, at least. The Marvel Unlimited app doesn’t show up as a compatible iPad app on the Vision Pro, for instance. And ever since Amazon acquired Comixology, it’s been nothing but repeated demonstrations of how we can’t have nice things.

So if it were just publishers and comics creators saying, “Okay, sure, you can look at PDFs on your headset. Knock yourselves out, nerds,” I’d be inclined to think of it just as the most niche of niche applications. But the more I think about what could happen if publishers and creators made a real effort to adapt comics to 3D, the more I think it could be one of those rare cases where minimal investment results in a big win for everyone.

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    Which I admit I kind of forgot existed

Tuesday Tune Two-Fer: King Cake

Two tangentially-related tunes to let the good times roll

(King Cake photo by Caitlin Bensel for Southern Living)

Today is Fat Tuesday! As a protestant who’s to this day never once visited New Orleans, I can’t claim to be an expert, but I have got to respect any holiday that so prominently features religious desserts.

In honor of that, here’s a song by Elvis Presley, who’s The King to most, but never meant shit to me except as a karaoke song. I have to say I can do a pretty good rendition of “(You’re the) Devil In Disguise”. (That’s a painfully on-the-nose animated video that’s “official” or whatever, but of course the best animated video to that song is in Lilo and Stitch).

Tangentially related: I was a big fan of the band Cake back in the late 1990s, which is when it was most appropriate to be a big fan of the band Cake. I let my fandom lapse since then, but back when they hit it big with “The Distance,” I felt squarely in their target audience of hipsters and aspiring hipsters. I’ve never had a bucket hat, and I’ve only sporadically had a goatee, but I still thought each record was like finding a special surprise.

Tuesday Tune Two-Fer: Old Man Atmospheric River

Two tangentially-related tunes for life in sunny Los Angeles

I almost forgot it was Tuesday, what with everything going on this week. At Spectre Collie HQ, I’ve been preoccupied with furniture and with VR headsets and, like everybody else in Los Angeles:

Rain, and lots of it. Revolver is my favorite Beatles album, and it’s only a modern convention that “Rain” is included on it, since we don’t really do singles in the 21st century. It fits, though. I honestly can’t say whether I like the song for its own merits, or just because I know that one of my best friends was named after it.

When you live in a desert, unusual amounts of rain mean one thing:

Twisting. No, wait: Floods. We’ve been relatively fortunate that for us, the storm’s been little more than a nuisance. I’ve been staying off the roads, though, since the last time a big rain storm hit, it was causing flooding all over the San Fernando Valley. It’s kind of surreal to be driving through (beautiful downtown) Burbank like everything’s normal, and suddenly finding yourself driving through foot-deep ponds in the middle of an intersection. That was enough to convince me to stay at home if possible.

It’s also surreal to see the LA River actually filled with water. I’d always assumed that calling it the “LA River,” was Los Angeles being sardonic or something, since it’s just an impossibly huge concrete canal going through the city and occasionally being used for film or music video shoots. Ignorant of LA history, I wasn’t aware that it’s an actual river, paved only because of catastrophic floods in the 1930s.

Anyway: Flood isn’t my favorite They Might Be Giants album (that’s Lincoln), and “Twisting” isn’t my favorite song from Flood (that’s “Minimum Wage”). But it’s been a while since I’ve heard it, and it’s a highlight, even if I don’t know anybody named after it.

Tuesday Tune Two-Fer: Shut Up And (Watch Someone) Dance

Phoning it in this week, because I just like Margaret Qualley

I’m kind of phoning it in this week, because I’ve already mentioned tons of times how much I love the Kenzo World ad directed by Spike Jonze and starting Margaret Qualley.

The song is called “Mutant Brain” by Sam i and Ape Drums, if for some reason you want to hear it without that amazing choreography.

Qualley is phenomenal in it, and I instantly became a huge fan. Granted, it’s impossible for Spike Jonze to make a bad music video, but I think part of that is that he chooses the right people to work with. In particular: actors and musicians who are game for whatever wild idea he’s come up with, and will be willing to bring all their talents to it. Especially if, like Christopher Walken, they can dance.

I haven’t seen The Leftovers or Once Upon a Time In Hollywood, but I was pleasantly surprised to see Margaret Qualley show up in a rather small and weird part in Poor Things. It didn’t seem like it required someone at her level of career success, so I’m assuming that she just thought it was a weird, neat idea and wanted to be part of it. (And if that’s not the case, I’d rather not know otherwise).

She also stars in a recent video for the song “Tiny Moves” by Bleachers. I’ve got to admit I’m all but completely indifferent to the song, since Bleachers has always struck me as so inoffensive that there’s nothing I can latch onto. But it’s just nice to see someone so comfortable in front of a camera bringing that charisma, along with dance training and familiarity with a ton of different styles of choreography, to a love song. I like the story behind it, too: Qualley has said that she wanted to make it as a wedding gift for Jack Antonoff after they got married last year.

Just Fine (Another Thing I Like About Poker Face)

Product placement, or establishing character and mission statement through the use of brand recognition? It doesn’t matter!

I realize that it often seems like my blog posts are written by a LLM using the prompt “write about this in the style of a pretentious nerd under the influence of Ambien,” but I swear that isn’t the case. Even though, when writing about Poker Face, I did hallucinate an Agatha Christie story called Murder on the Nile.

I also evidently ignored years of teachers stressing the importance of making outlines, because I started trying to make a few observations that quickly got away from me. One of them was about how much I like Rian Johnson’s assertion of ethics and morality in his works (that I’ve seen, of course): he doesn’t seem to care much for anti-heroes or ethical ambiguity, much less outright nihilism. He makes his values abundantly clear, but without ever being so didactic that it overwhelms the entertainment.

The other was that there’s such an economy and efficiency to the first episode of Poker Face, where it reads as casual and funny on first watch, but you quickly realize that there’s hardly a single moment in the entire show that doesn’t serve a purpose.

A great example of both: in the scene between Charlie and Sterling, Jr, where he’s setting up not just their relationship but the premise of the entire series, he starts the scene by offering her a drink. When she asks what her choices are, he seems surprised by the question. They’re in the owner’s suite at the top of a casino; she can have whatever she wants. Shortly after, we see her with Heineken in a can. Later in the episode, a bartender who knows her offers her favorite, and it’s a Coors Light. (She chooses coffee instead, which has its own repercussions).

There’s so much packed into that. The question immediately puts Sterling on the defensive, which we soon learn is key to his whole character: he’s in charge of this whole place and can have anything he wants; why is she acting like his options are limited? She’s immediately found a way to change up the power dynamic, choosing to serve herself. And the thing she chooses, out of presumably a wall’s worth of expensive liquor, is a canned beer slightly fancier than the canned beer she normally drinks.

That last part is important, because it’s the core idea of the entire scene that follows. The beer, and more explicitly, the conversation that follows, are all about establishing her character as someone who genuinely appreciates the value of having enough.

Continue reading “Just Fine (Another Thing I Like About Poker Face)”

One Thing I Love About Poker Face

Poker Face is really nostalgic for 1970s detective shows, but it isn’t content to be stuck in the past

It was a foregone conclusion that I was going to at least like Poker Face — I love Rian Johnson’s murder mysteries; Natasha Lyonne’s got a “presence” that makes you eager to like everything she does; it’s a revival of the Columbo-style mystery; and it’s got a long list of guest appearances from actors I like a lot, and also Adrian Brody1To be fair, he has to play a reprehensible sleazebag in the first episode, and he sells it so well, it’s as if it comes naturally to him.. But I never got around to watching it until my ticket to Halloween Horror Nights got me a subscription to Peacock as a bonus.

(There’s no real point to that detail; it’s just a signifier of what life was like in 2023, where streaming networks and synergy within huge multimedia companies means I have to go to a theme park to watch a show I’m interested in).

I finally watched the first episode tonight, and it nails everything I expected it to. The opening titles alone were enough to set the tone, even if they hadn’t been set on top of shots of a casino seemingly stuck in a perpetual state of mid-to-late-70s-ness. It’s a perfect setting for a series concept that itself seems to be stuck halfway in the past.

The main character suggests a call back to Jim Rockford — mostly in her sense of humor in the face of being constantly targeted by bad guys and misfortune — and of course, the format calls back to Columbo. But calling it just an homage would be selling it short. You could make a very, very good pastiche of 1970s detective series. Or you could take the premise of “the audience knows the killer(s) from the start,” and experiment with it in loads of interesting ways. Poker Face does both, breaking down its inspirations into their component parts, and then using them to make something new.

Continue reading “One Thing I Love About Poker Face”
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    To be fair, he has to play a reprehensible sleazebag in the first episode, and he sells it so well, it’s as if it comes naturally to him.

Tuesday Tune Two-Fer: Les chansons dans ma tête

Two tangentially-related tunes for Tuesday, en francais

If you’re as prone to catching earworms as I am, I recommend avoiding the movies Death Proof and But I’m a Cheerleader, because they both contain “Chick Habit” by musician and animator April March. The last time I saw either of those movies was a year ago, and I still occasionally wake up with the song going through my head. Sometimes just thinking of or seeing a picture of Natasha Lyonne is enough to set it off.

It’s a faithful cover of “Laisse Tomber Les Filles”, and she’s recorded versions in both English and French. The original was made famous by France Gall, a French pop star with an only slightly less unbelievable pseudonym than April March.

Not as good as “Laisse Tomber Les Filles,” but no less tenacious, is “Poupée de cire, poupée de son”, another song written by Serge Gainsbourg, and the song with which she won Eurovision in 1965. You can read more about the song in your local library, or on Wikipedia, if you’re wondering about the translation, or just want to be reminded of how asinine Gainsbourg was.